Just one week after Shawnee High School feted its undefeated 1966 football team by inducting its members and coaches into the school’s hall of fame, how fitting it seems that the Indians will be the guests of the St. Marys Roughriders on their weekend to remember when the Auglaize County school pays tribute to three teams that put the school on the map in the early 1990s as a high-school football powerhouse.
While in a different era for high school football, the ‘66 Indians squad had no post-season tournament in which to compete, since that didn’t begin until 1972. The St. Marys teams of 1990, ’92 and ’93 did, indeed, have a post-season place to go, and all three won Division II state titles.
The idea for the weekend to honor those teams came from Steve Stroh, a former Roughrider player and 1976 graduate. He contacted me in June and told me that he just never felt there was a proper community-wide formal recognition of those Friday Night ‘Riders of some 25 years ago.
He told me his intentions were to gather some others, such as Tom Knous, Bob Fitzgerald, Mike Compton and Chet Knous, all former St. Marys players, to help him organize a Friday-Saturday event to recognize the players, coaches and support staff for those championship teams without, of course, leaving out the most supportive fans you’re likely to find anywhere in sports.
Of course, not all who were a part of those great ‘Rider teams who won crowns will be able to attend. Some, because of prior commitments or distance they would have to travel, won’t be there. Of course, the grim reality of life, death, has claimed others, including legendary head coach Eugene “Skip” Baughman and his long-time valued assistant coach, Bob Priddy.
One vital cog, Mr. Everything, Mike Elston, who starred as a sophomore on the ’90 champs and also as a senior on the ’92 team, will have work commitments this weekend, since it’s a Notre Dame travel weekend. Elston just last month was named associate head coach to Brian Kelly and will, no doubt, be assuming his new duties in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, where the Irish will take on Boston College on Saturday.
However, for so many others that have come to embrace a sport that can galvanize small communities in places such as St. Marys, they will return to the stadium named for Baughman just off West South Street, a stadium for so many who yearn for the old days that’s now strangely visible from the street now that the original Memorial High School has been razed and replaced by the new school off state Route 66 north of town.
They’ll come clad in their royal blue and gold to remember both the original school where they spent their school days and the football field where they gathered on Fridays either to play or watch, some from the stands, and some from those famous railroad tracks perched above the playing surface to the south, a wallet-friendly spectator section, where coolers lo these many years have been almost mandatory.
According to Stroh, on Friday night, those able to return from those three championship squads will be honored on the field. Prior to the game, there will also be a gathering at the “Rider Touchdown Club” across the street from the stadium.
Since reunions tend to elicit such strong nostalgic feelings, of course one night just isn’t enough.
On Saturday night, there will be a gathering for all members and spouses of all three teams, as well as coaches and spouses. Stroh stressed the event actually is for any and all former players and coaches and also for the fans, including the railroad tracks folks, who watched all those traps, sweeps, dives and, on rare occasions, passes. The location is the American Legion Hall, and the times are 7 pm to 11 pm. Admission is $5, which will include sandwiches and snacks. There will be a cash bar for beverages.
Everyone is encouraged to bring their ‘Rider-related memorabilia, and my guess is that the memorabilia just may ignite a few stories. So, if you’re among the ‘Rider faithful, please check out the festivities this weekend, where the goal just may be to make men in their late 30s and early 40s, many of whom are former students of mine, and, in addition to good football players, quality students, feel like teen-agers once again.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.